If you want to feel the real essence of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, look no further than the city streets. In the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, lively street parties and parades, called blocos, wind throughout Rio’s various neighborhoods, led by floats blaring live samba music. Crowds can swell to upwards of 200,000 people, many dressed in outrageous costumes and more than a little intoxicated.
This year, Rio’s tourism board approved 424 different blocos of all sizes and themes. With so many to choose from, where do you begin? This list includes some of the most popular.
Banda de Ipanema
Where: Rua Gomes Carneiro to Praça General Osório.
When: Feb. 18 and Feb. 21 at 6 p.m.
Why go: One of Rio Carnival’s longest-running blocos, Banda da Ipanema runs along the beachfront at sunset, providing stunning views to those who break away long enough from the party to enjoy them. Flamboyant drag queens come out in droves, so feel free to go crazier than usual with your costumes.Bangalafumenga
Where: Av. Infante Dom Henrique
When: Feb. 19 at 10 a.m.
Why go: The core band members are popular local musicians, performing year-round in venues across Rio. Expect the traditional Carnival marchinhas, along with some funk, pop, and rock thrown in.
Where: Rua Almirante Alexandrino, winding through Santa Teresa.
When: Feb. 21 at 10 a.m.
Why go: This bloco is inspired by a local legend about a Carmelite nun who jumped the walls of her convent in Santa Teresa to join Carnival. Most revelers sport a colorful veil.
Cordão do Boitatá
Where: Rua do Mercado and Rua do Ouvidor, ending with a street party at Praça XV.
When: Feb. 19 at 8 a.m.
Why go: Inspired by Brazilian folk traditions, Cordão do Boitatá is slightly more peaceful and family-oriented than many of the other blocos.
Cordão da Bola Preta
Where: Largo da Candelária in Centro, going down Avenida Rio Branco to Cinelândia.
When: Feb. 18 at 9:30 a.m.
Why go: Reportedly Rio’s largest bloco, Cordão da Bola Preta is popular across demographics. Wear an outfit with the signature black polka dots on white to blend in.
Escravos da Mauá
Where: Largo de Santa Rita, going through Centro and finishing in Rua do Acre
When: Feb. 12 at 12 p.m.
Why go: This bloco‘s path takes you through the historical Saúde district, Praça Mauá and Morro da Conceição — the birthplace of Carnival street parties.
Que Merda é Essa?!
Where: Rua Garcia D’ávila and Rua Nascimento Silva, going along Vieira Souto in Ipanema.
When: Feb. 19 at 4 p.m.
Why go: Translated, the name of this bloco is “What the S- is This?” Enough said.
Where: Av. Rio Branco and Av. Presidente Vargas, ending at Cinelândia.
When: Feb. 26 at 9 a.m.
Why go: The Monobloco parade is so popular, it was recently moved to Centro so it could accommodate everyone who wanted to participate. Music is led by the popular percussion-based Pedro Luís e a Parede.
Simpatia é Quase Amor
Where: Praça General Osório, going down the Ipanema shoreline to Leblon.
When: Feb. 19 at 4 p.m.
Why go: The crowd at this bloco veers toward young and flirty, making it a great place to meet people.
Suvaco do Cristo
Where: Rua Jardim Botânico, going through the Jardim Botânico.
When: Feb. 12 at 9 a.m.
Why go: This low-key bloco goes through Rio’s botanical gardens, which should already be on your list of places to visit. Why not hit two birds with one stone?
Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.